"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Friday, September 18, 2009

On Leaving Springfield

Today marked the final broadcast of Guiding Light.

I first entered Springfield in my childhood, in a negligible fashion. Our maid kept the tv on when she was cooking, doing laundry, ironing, cleaning. The soaps were just about the only thing on during the daytime back then. The tv was always tuned to CBS because of the good reception--our one and only tv station was an affiliate. As I grew older, I started paying attention to what was happening on the screen, but Guiding Light was just one of the many soaps that gave me a glimpse of the "real world." You know, with instant preganancies and secret babies and evil wealthy megalomaniac patriarchs and schemers and bigamists and people dying and then showing up again at a really bad moment--usually for a wedding.

In college one of my theatre professors was a huge GL fan. He was always going on about Roger and Holly. At the time I was only watching Another World but once in a while I would catch GL, especially if my professor said it was going to be a big day for some Roger Thorpe action. Which is how I happened to see him fall off the cliff.

In grad school my soap watching declined. AW came on at an inconvenient time, so it went by the wayside. But GL was on later in the afternoon. I discovered it one day when I came back to my apartment from a lecture or teaching or something, and switched on the telly. I don't remember exactly what was going on in Springfield at that particular time--but that one episode hooked me. Roger was still dead...only one day he showed up again, and all hell broke loose.

I've been watching ever since. GL has been a part of my life for almost as long as the Chap.

After leaving university it was an important part of my working day. I'd take a writing break at 2 or 3 p.m. and watch GL in real time. When we moved to NH from Colorado, I did the same. The Chap and I were both working at home then. He'd sometimes wander through the sitting room during the GL hour, and got familiar with some characters and storylines. At some point Boston's CBS afiliate switched the time from 3 p.m. to 9 a.m. I started recording the show, and we'd watch it together in the evening.

When we were in New York a few years ago for a novelists' conference, strolling near Broadway, it was my husband who suddenly said, "Hey, look, it's Josh!" And indeed, it was Robert Newman, who paused and chatted with us.

Last year, at the same conference, I had another GL encounter with head writer Jill Hurst, one of our keynoters. There was a lottery for a studio tour--my number wasn't drawn.

As everyone knows, it's the longest-running soap, dating back 70-something years, because it started on radio.

I look back fondly on the days when the Bauers, the Reardons, and the Chamberlins were the central families. Then came the Lewises and the Spauldings and the Coopers and the Raineses, who for years have been front and centre. With an addition of the Hispanic Santos crime family and the black Cosby-esque Boudreaux family, in which nearly everyone was a doctor at Cedars Hospital until one day one of them decided to also become a lawyer. After almost instantly passing the bar and getting her law licence she miraculously practised both professions with astonishing success. (But of course her marriage failed.) At least two female characters on the show not only married the brother of their true love but also the father. Nearly every union resulted in offspring, which then necessitated SORAS (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome) whereby the tot is rapidly aged, or the child is sent to boarding school (usually overseas) and the following year returns as a young adult ready for a romantic story line of his/her own.

As a true and abiding fan I've often been frustrated with the show's direction and with certain characters in particular. A lot of the light went out for me when Michael Zaslow (Roger) left, later dying of ALS. In recent years the plotlines have been so boneheaded that I think back longingly to the days of the Dreaming Death epidemic, or when Josh had Reva cloned, or people were leaping through a painting to go back in time to solve a crime or murder. Producers and writers created idiotic plots and willfully disregarded backstory and cherished history. Favourite actors left for other soaps. My emotional engagement decreased....over the past two weeks it flickered into life again but it wasn't the same because I knew it was about to be over. For good.

Even so, I stuck it out until this morning, when, after the final scene a graphic flashed stating "The End."

In some ways the conclusion was satisfying. In many ways it was not. Makes no difference. I'll just say "thanks" to everyone responsible for the good memories and I'll consider someday forgiving those responsible for the bad memories and the ratings plunge that resulted in cancellation. Bitter much? Well, yes, I am. Quite a lot, actually. I feel robbed and cheated. I'd rather Procter & Gamble and CBS had committed to saving the show instead of killing it. I think it was possible....

I considered following favourite players who found homes on other shows. But it just doesn't feel right, so looks like I'm done with soaps.


I came up to the lake a few days ago. Don't think I've seen a single boat on the water since I got here. The new green roof looks very nice. I'm getting a lot of writing done but they are tragic scenes mostly. The air is chilly when the dogs and I our twice-daily walks, and I use the furnace sometimes. Today it's really windy. The Chap is coming up sometime this weekend and taking me out to dinner but probably not staying overnight.

When I saw this picture of a dog who looks exactly like Jewel, I got suspicious. Checked to make sure all the paper money I've got is intact.

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